Kelly Smith’s 2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee

Intrepid tandem duo Kelly Smith and Mary Crawley took his tandem up to Massachusetts for the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, the D2R2, and gave it a shot. Kelly wrote up their experience in a short story.

2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee
by Kelly Smith

(see photos at Kelly’s Photobucket page).

I have mentioned to many in the group that Mary Crawley and I were doing the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee: This sounded like the most unusual and difficult ride of it’s length around, and the pictures linked from the website were fascinating. Mary was up for it so we signed up and I began to plan how to rig the tandem.

I removed the fenders and mounted the largest tires I could fit: 42mm in the front and 40 in the back. I chose smooth centers with side knobs, running 70 psi in front and 90 in back. Comfort was not a problem, and they handled well. I also replaced my granny ring with a 26 tooth to better tackle the unbelievable grades promised.

Last week we met at Michaux State Forest in Pa for a test ride on the dirt forest roads and ATV tracks there. This was a blast and a tough ride on its own, but uncovered a problem. Riding the brakes on a super steep descent resulted in the rear tire blowing with a blast that made our ears ring. Fortunately I’d brought a spare and we were able to finish, and I called around the LBSs to find a drag brake. Larry Black had one, they are out of production, and he generously offered to mail it to me on faith that I’d send a check.

So, set with big tires, low gears, and a drag brake I set out Friday at mid-day. I picked up Mary a little after 4 and we headed up to Deerfield. Naturally, trying to cross the New York metro region in late afternoon and evening didn’t go well – we got in a little after 11.

We often say we a ride is an adventure, but assume we can do it. Well, a real adventure can go either way :-) In a nutshell, the D2R2 170 km course is unbelievably hard. I’ve ridden some rides that claim to be climbing challenges, and some of those on the tandem, but this just puts them all in the shade.

The start was at a big tent in a field on the outskirts of Old Deerfield, a Williamburg type restored area of town filled with beautiful 19th century buildings. The start opened at 6 and we rolled out at the back of a group of a hundred or so bike. An amazing number of people were riding regular road bikes with 23mm tires and standard gears! Also saw many people on cross bikes but using skinny road tires, don’t know why.

We were slow on the climbs, of course, but for the first half we were still among riders who looked like they had it under control. I wasn’t confident enough to descend quickly, which cost us a lot of time. The new drag brake I installed was a godsend for making it down the extremely steep dirt descents, but about 1/2 way into the ride, it began sticking frequently when released. For the rest of the ride, we had to stop many times to release the brake manually.

We also began having chain suck trouble about 1/3 of the way in and had to stop repeatedly to clear jams. By mile 86 the chain was so bent that I had to replace a link; after that, we were not confident to continue riding the steep hills with it. Since we were looking at 1/2 hour or more of night riding and missing the finish cutoff — even assuming that we had no more problems — we decided to cut the ride short.

With the ride back to Deerfield in the valley, we had 96 miles total in just over 12 hours. Without the mechanicals we would have had time to finish, but it would have been very tough, as there were several more hard climbs to go, including a 20% section.

Some details:

There was a fun section of maybe 1/4 – 1/2 mile that was all torn up by heavy logging equipment. They had dumped soil in to fill and then driven over it so you had huge puddles, rocks, branches, steep sided mud holes, etc., wall to wall. It was double track, but so ripped up that it rode like single track. Sometimes you could feel the rear end slip sideways. You had to stand and shift your weight to maneuver. We were pleased with ourselves to clear that section without stopping. At the next intersection we met a group of rides on skinny tire bikes that had ridden it without putting a foot down. Amazing!

We had to walk one climb, about 200-300 yards the organizers described as 27%, and it looked like it. Don’t know if we could have handled the grade, but it was also narrow with deep gravel in the center and on the sides. There were piles of dirt and gravel here and there where cars or trucks had spun out and dug holes. People were walking too. We had to cross the center ridge a couple times, then tried to dodge a walker and came to a stop. No starting back up on that grade!

Amazingly we saw people riding up the hardest bit. Not everybody for sure, but some. We saw a couple walkers on the next one, not as steep but over a mile long. We made that one.

The cue sheet is interesting in its own right. Check out some of my favorite lines:

0.25 9.05 LEFT onto Pine Hill Rd – dirt, ignore Road Closed sign
0.00 9.05 Caution: pigs, dogs, etc. often in road here

0.00 28.80 CAUTION: wicked downhill next mile – steep, rutted, narrow, stony

0.90 34.05 RIGHT onto Mountain Rd – 15% climb next 3/4 mile
1.05 35.10 LEFT onto South Heath Rd – super steep (so what was the 15%?)

0.20 36.40 Continue straight – road becomes gnarly

Anyway, it was an experience but extremely difficult. Unbelievable displays of strength, skill, and confidence by people riding the dirt on road bikes like it was smooth pavement.

Oh yes, beautiful area, hours without seeing any cars (or pavement). Beautiful Greek Revival houses in the middle of nowhere, friendly people, long drive to and fro.

I think this is a unique event to test yourself on, still small and friendly, but do not underestimate it.

Kelly Smith

One thought on “Kelly Smith’s 2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee

  1. You didn’t mention it was hot..and humid. Wow. Hey I live in Seattle. I had forgotten the humidity thing.

    I rode up that 27% grade. Had to. I had tightened my toe straps so tight I could never pull out in time.

    Beautiful views. Great weather. My hats off to the two of you on the tandem. I can’t picture my wife and I cycling down those descents. I was happy on a single bike.

    I said hello to you both in the am and then saw you at the end of the ride at the finish. Andy

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